The General Operating budget accounts for almost 60% of total expenditure at the average Top 25 university. In 2022, GO expenditure (GOE) averaged $816 million across the Top 25, ranging from $448 million to over $2.5 billion.
Expenditures are less prone to inter-provincial and inter-university differences and complexities than Incomes. However, universities do differ for a variety of reasons – size, location, academic program, age, physical condition, and other factors. Those differences may be reflected in resource allocations.
The GO budget is allocated across eight functions: Instruction & Non-Sponsored Research (“Instruction”) – where the teaching happens, Non-Credit Instruction (mainly extension programs), the Library, Computing & General, Administration & Academic Support*, Student Services, Physical Plant, and External Relations*. (* Administration & Academic Support and External Relations are re-combined in this analysis as Central Administration, reflecting the structure in earlier years.) Descriptions of the functions can be found in CAUBO’s comprehensive reporting guidelines HERE (pages 20-22).
Please Note: “Internal Sales and Cost Recoveries” have been removed from GOE for all the analysis on this site. They are an intra-university adjustment used to differing degrees by some universities, and not at all by others. Including them would undermine comparability.
GOE is divided on this site into the three categories shown below, along with the associated CAUBO functions:
Academic-Focused: Instruction & Non-Sponsored Research, Non-Credit Instruction, Library
Operational Support: Computing & General, Central Administration, Physical Plant.
Student Services: Student Services
The allocation split between these categories is the critical element in determining a university’s effectiveness. Maintaining tight control over Operational Support costs is key to delivering funding to Core Mission activities and minimizing student fee increases.
The chart below shows the change across the Top 25 since 2001 in “Real Dollars” (adjusted for both inflation and enrollment). Positive values denote increases exceeding inflation and enrollment combined:
Top 25 Change Overview (Inflation-adjusted):
- Academic-Focused expenditure averaged $507 million in 2022 – up 79% since 2001 (21% since 2010). It now accounts for 62.1% of GOE (67.5% in 2001, 65.2% in 2010).
- Operational Support expenditure averaged $222 million in 2022 – up 107% since 2001 (34% since 2010). It now accounts for 27.2% of GOE (25.6% in 2001, 25.8% in 2010).
- Student Services expenditure averaged $87 million in 2022 – up 197% since 2001 (50% since 2010). It now accounts for 10.7% of GOE (6.9% in 2001, 9.0% in 2010).
- Total General Operating expenditure averaged $815 million in 2022 – up 102% since 2001 (28% since 2010).
To add perspective to the above numbers, average enrollment has increased by 57% since 2001 (21% since 2010).
The growth in Student Services’ share of GOE is understandable. Awareness that mental health is a major societal issue has increased in recent years. This is especially so for students; the changes in PSE have taken a deepening toll, with much higher levels of academic, financial and emotional stress. It is commendable that more money is being spent on Student Services. This has funded vital tools for ensuring student wellbeing, and has undoubtedly been a life saver.
However, there is no such rationale for Operational Support costs to track inflation and enrollment combined, never mind far exceed that. They have grown much faster than allocations to the university’s “mission-critical” Academic-Focused areas.
Essentially, most universities have done the opposite of what they should have done. During a prolonged period of increasing enrollment, they haven’t kept cost growth in the less enrollment-sensitive areas below the growth in the “mission-critical” Academic-focused areas; they’ve allowed those costs to escalate at a much higher rate.
As addressed on the Home page and About page, the substantial and continuing increase in Operational Support hasn’t just impacted educational quality and student cost. It threatens the fundamental sustainability of our universities.
Operational Support expenditure is an endemic issue, but the Efficiency Rankings show that some schools are much closer to unsustainable territory than others.
The underlying methodology for the tables below can be seen HERE. Each table opens in a new tab.